Facebook Fights are Not a Substitute for Actual Activism
Although Facebook has lost its charm for many young people, who have tended to migrate over to Twitter or Instagram as more of their grandmothers begin posting unironic minion memes, I have always liked it for some of its practical elements. Notifications about birthdays keep me on good terms with acquaintances, event reminders are useful when looking for something to do, and group pages with invite options and polls make it somewhat possible to plan events with a large amount of people.
Furthermore, Facebook albums are a good way to back-up photos, and the “On This Day” feature keeps me humble and aware of my sad beginnings by consistently reminding me about ex boyfriends and whatever incoherent nonsense I was spewing in 2009. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, I may be having a bad day, but at least I don’t shop at Hot Topic anymore.
I was always fairly content on Facebook, using it mainly for those purposes but occasionally scrolling and sometimes sharing things I found funny or relevant. When I first graduated high school, it was particularly nice to use Facebook and other social media to see what friends were up to, but over time the quality has deteriorated so much that it rivals the impossibly low standards set by 2009.
Maybe (but probably not) this is normal following an election year, maybe I am just noticing it now that I am more aware of current issues than I was in my youth, but Facebook has become a cesspool of people posting ignorant, hateful, and often plain ridiculous comments on virtually every available post that they can relate to politics. I complain not because I hate the topic, I study and work in politics, that’s not the issue – but because the fights are obnoxious, impractical, and make every side and every point of view look absolutely idiotic. Logging into Facebook sometimes makes me question my career and my beliefs, and makes me feel embarrassed of opinions I have always considered reasonable and fair.
…there is a huge gulf between being a Facebook activist and an actual engine of change.
I’m not talking about specific statuses exclusively. In fact, much (though not all) of the time I see reasonable comments from my friends (though, as a disclaimer, I have unfriended a lot of people whose views I found severely obnoxious), and occasionally I see fair attempts between two people to have a rational discussion. I greatly appreciate those of you who do this. What irritates me above all else are comments. Comments on viral videos, photos, news, comments on literally anything that might be shared, regardless of what the topic is.
Whenever a day goes suspiciously well for me, I make sure I don’t become too optimistic by logging into Facebook and playing a game where I see how long it takes me to find an unnecessary ridiculous political comment on something completely irrelevant. Obviously it’s valid on news stories, but it honestly shocks me how many innocent movie trailers turn into a virtual political brawl.
One comment I see pretty frequently is some variation of “someone should show this to a snowflake lib! They would be so triggered and need a safe space!” I feel like we’ve reached a point where most of us should recognize that the moment someone says the word “snowflake” in this context, they’ve already lost, since it’s nearly always someone being offended that people might get offended. As a disclaimer, I am a liberal myself, and so whenever I see these posts I look at the comments to see what people are saying, thinking surely other liberals have taken advantage of this easy win.
Rarely, if ever, do I see the other side responding to something ridiculous and aggressive with anything even vaguely resembling competency. The conversation spirals out of control, with both people making bare assertions, flinging insults, and ultimately getting far too worked up about someone else’s views on Facebook. It becomes irrelevant to a reader which viewpoint is actually correct, because the dissenting debaters seem disinterested in actually convincing anyone, and instead appear to compete for most embarrassing comment.
As tempting as it can be to start a fight on Facebook over someone’s views, it’s not a productive use of one’s time, and it is certainly not helping a cause. If you see someone with an opinion you find atrocious on Facebook, there’s a decent chance that they’re not going to budge on the issue anyway, and if they reply to you with something unnecessarily argumentative and evasive, it’s time to recognize that they aren’t interested in having a reasonable discussion. If that is the case, as frustrating as it may be, it’s best to disengage from the argument.
The fact is that it’s simply pointless to start a fight with someone when you have no chance of changing their viewpoint, and if they’re going to behave ridiculously, they’re going to drag you down with them and make the entire conversation look absurd, so that you don’t stand a chance of persuading any witnesses either.
Experience working on a campaign has taught me that the best way to sell a viewpoint is not to advertise, not to fight, not to act irrationally, but to have open conversations with people, making genuine attempts to connect with the other side. Often, it’s easier to look for issues you can agree on rather than fight over ones that divide you, and always people are more receptive to a face-to-face discussion than anything else. (In general, it’s fair to assume people are least receptive to a stranger yelling at them from the comments section of a movie trailer.)
Another, less optimistic truth I have been forced to accept is the fact that while many people are happy to expel their wisdom on the Internet, few are willing to take actual action. The amount of people I see entering into poorly researched and fallacy-friendly Facebook arguments when I know that they refused to volunteer for a cause, or worse, refused to vote, is staggering and disheartening. Anyone who feels strongly enough about a cause to tout their views on Facebook should feel compelled to take advantage of the most powerful tools they have – the ability to meet and discuss issues with voters in a civil and personal manner, and the right to vote.
Chances are high that the option that will get you the most reactions on Facebook is not the option that will make the biggest difference in the world.
People waste immeasurable time and energy on Facebook fights, using all of the efforts they are apparently willing to allocate towards a cause on changing an individual opinion on the Internet, a tool that is more likely to turn people off from a viewpoint than to entice them. But seeking out every dissenter on Facebook, and championing every small, forgettable cause, ultimately allows you to pat yourself on the back for being vocal, while you sit in the comfort of your room, not making a dent in the causes you believe in.
While it may not be possible for all, there are numerous other means individuals can take to make a difference. Donating to an organization or candidate who represents your views helps, and if you can’t afford to donate money, you might be able to donate your time to volunteering for them. You can attend protests and rallies, follow the news and contact representatives about the issues that matter to you, you can even focus your energy on having kind and respectful conversations with the people around you. All of these are options that can be used to express your views, and they’re certainly going to have a greater impact than fighting with a stranger on Facebook who’s more likely to be trolling than listening.
In no way is it wrong to share posts or discuss politics on social media. You have the ability to express yourself, and you should. I don’t want to pretend I have refrained from posting views, or act like I have a slate clean from Facebook fights. There is, however, a large difference from ranting at someone you don’t know from the comment section of a Facebook story than trying to share your thoughts to your friends and having effective discussions with those who comment. Furthermore, there is a huge gulf between being a Facebook activist and an actual engine of change.
It’s necessary for us to realize that when we lose control and give in to the urge to be vicious and make bare assertions on the Internet, we usually only succeed in angering the opposing side and giving them more reason to tune our voices out. As tempting as it can be to hit the enter key and send a scathing rant to someone online, try to refrain for a moment, and instead consider other uses of your time and energy, and weigh which option will ultimately have a more productive effect for your cause. Chances are high that the option that will get you the most reactions on Facebook is not the option that will make the biggest difference in the world.